When organized hate mongers bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Robertson, Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins were getting ready for Sunday school and practicing for the church play. They were giggling and teasing each other about “usual” girl-child things. They planned to be best friends through adolescence, graduation, college and beyond. The deadly act of cowards who walked free with impunity for decades after committing the heartless deed, devastated an already embattled community and sent a message to all those who dared to stand against a status quo that sanctioned the killing of innocent children. As songwriter Richard Farina wrote:
On Birmingham Sunday, a noise shook the groundThe murderers of Cynthia, Carole, Denise and Addie Mae, were protected by a vicious state’s rights system that covered up these and other racially motivated deaths at the hands of known persons.
And people all over the earth turned around.
For no one recalled a more cowardly sound.
And the choirs kept singing of Freedom.
It was a back-in-the-day crime that resonates today. It resonates today as we demand justice for twenty-first century victims of the same hatred that killed the Four Little Girls. We must remember these young martyrs by vowing never to rest until all those responsible for the death of James C. Anderson, who was killed in Jackson, Mississippi on June 26, 2011 by a vehicle driven by modern day night riders, looking for a Black life to claim, are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We can accept nothing less! We must insist that a Black life has the same value as that of a white life. We must lift the veil of denial and become part of the solution that will once and for all put an end to such acts of racial hatred.
As we remember the Four Little Girls, we also must demand answers that will solve the mystery shrouding the death of Frederick Jermaine Carter, whose body was found hanging from a tree on December 3, 2010 in Leflore County, Mississippi. We can no longer remain in the safety zone.
We, who are the beneficiaries of the opportunities denied so many, must come out of our comfort zones and use our inquiring minds and influence to question how such events can occur today, despite the distance we have come. For the sake of our children and all the “Four Little Girls” and Boys to come, we must challenge structures and institutions that continue to exclude the majority to enrich the minority.
Remembering this day and celebrating the lives of Cynthia, Carole, Denise and Addie Mae, should propel us into action. It should make us work harder to dismantle all of the 21st Century separate-but-equal schemes that deny millions of children their constitutional right to equal access to a quality education. It should make us work harder to level the playing field for those who despite this country’s wealth, are caught in a web of grinding and unrelenting poverty.
To survive the onslaught of contemporary forms of injustice, we must demand ACCOUNTABILITY from all those elected to improve the quality of our lives. No longer can we accept their silence and inaction. Now is the time to demand more. Now is the time.
On this day, when our hearts are so heavy, we must renew our resolve to fight the good fight until the job is done! Remember the martyrs and fight for the living! Shame on us, if we don’t.
Jaribu Hill, Executive Director of The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights is a civil rights attorney. The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights was founded in 1996 in Oxford, MS to provide education, advocacy and organizing support for low-wage workers and other victims of civil and human rights violations in the workplace. Ms. Hill is the former Director of the Southern Regional Office of the Center for Constitutional Rights.